The Obama administration joined the chorus of United Nations, European and Arab critics of Israel this week when it blasted the decision of the Netanyahu government to approve plans to build new housing in two Jerusalem neighborhoods and one in the adjacent suburban area known as E1. While the Obama administration did not join its European allies and other members of the UN Security Council declaring the building illegal and an obstacle to a two-state solution that must cease immediately, it did declare that the activity put peace “further at risk.” Israel’s critics make the argument that this sort of condemnation is heightening the country’s isolation and is to blame for the lopsided vote in favor of upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s status at the UN earlier this month. But the hypocrisy of these charges makes it easy to understand why Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is ignoring them.
The point here isn’t just—as we have repeatedly pointed out here at Contentions—that building in these areas of Jerusalem as well as in E1 wouldn’t prevent a two-state solution were the Palestinians inclined to negotiate with Israel to get one. The building within Jerusalem’s city limits in Jewish neighborhoods that were built decades ago, such as Ramat Sharon and Gilo, are in places that no one envisions being given to the Palestinians even in the most generous offer possible. The same is true of the new Givat Hamatos project. As for the E1 area in between the city and the suburb of Ma’ale Adumim, it, too, is in an area that Israel has always intended to keep. That is a point underlined by the fact that it was Yitzhak Rabin that put it under the jurisdiction of the adjacent Jewish town.
But the real hypocrisy isn’t the fact that all those countries as well as the Palestinians know very well that it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference to a two-state solution if Israel built 100,000 new homes in these places or none at all. It is the fact that these countries continue to ignore the fact that it is the Palestinians who refuse to negotiate and who continue to issue statements making clear their intention to destroy Israel without drawing much comment from nations that are supposedly so interested in peace.
After all, it was just 11 days ago that Khaled Mashaal, the head of the Hamas movement that already rules the independent Palestinian state in all but name, stated the following to a cheering crowd in Gaza:
Palestine from the river to the sea, from the north to the south, is our land and we will never give up one inch or any part of it.
Though the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas subsequently took issue with this declaration and then disingenuously tried to assert that Hamas has already recognized Israel (it hasn’t), the fact remains that the Fatah leader has signed a unity agreement with its Islamist partner that sooner or later will be put into effect. Do the U.S. or the Europeans really expect Israel to hand over more land to such an alliance? There is a broad consensus inside Israel against any such plan that explains why Netanyahu’s coalition is set to romp in next month’s elections.
Nor do the claims that Israel’s building plans make it harder for Abbas hold up. Were Netanyahu building new towns deep inside the West Bank, as the settlement movement would like him to do, it could be credibly argued that such plans would prevent the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. But why would that be true of building in existing Jewish neighborhoods on territory that would be part of the land swaps that even President Obama has acknowledged would be part of a deal that was based on the 1967 lines?
The problem here is not just that what Israel is doing is no obstacle to peace. It is that by joining in condemnations of building inside Jerusalem, President Obama and the Europeans are encouraging the Palestinians to believe that they will someday force the Jewish state to give up not just the West Bank but its capital too. An end to the conflict will only come on the day when the Palestinian so-called moderates like Abbas and extremists like Meshaal understand this. Far from Netanyahu being the obstacle to peace, it is the administration and its friends at the UN that are doing more to make that goal impossible than the Israelis.